Not just teens need lesson against distracted driving

The effort by a group of teens at Pasco and Chiawana high schools to alert their peers to the dangers of texting and hands-on phoning while driving is a good one.

The message needs to be heard by teens.

And everyone else.

In 2008, according to federal reports, nearly 6,000 people were killed in crashes that involved distracted driving.

Other studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Texting is surely as dangerous, likely more so.

The Pasco teens and their sponsors brought a young man to tell about his tragic experience with this dangerous and irresponsible practice.

According to The New York Times, Reggie Shaw, then 19, was texting while driving on a two-lane highway on the rainy morning of Sept. 22, 2006, just west of Logan, Utah.

Shaw was a college student working as a house painter. Records show he had just sent a text message to his girlfriend at the moment of impact.

His vehicle crossed the center line and clipped a vehicle with two ATK Launch Systems scientists aboard, also going to work. They were thrown into the path of a heavily laden truck and were killed instantly.

"It is a mistake I cannot take back and I cannot change. I will live with it for the rest of my life," says Shaw in the video 10-85 Echo, Obvious Fatality, which he shows to audiences now.

Shaw served 30 days in jail and had to perform 100 hours of community service after his sentencing. He has met all the court's requirements and continues to show the film and tell his story.

Last year a similar story was reported in The Boston Globe about a trolley driver whose train rear-ended another trolley, injuring 49 people. It was determined that the young man was text-messaging his girlfriend from his cell phone at the moment that the collision occurred.

A year earlier, investigators determined that the engineer of a Southern California commuter train was sending a text message when he ran a red light and slammed into a freight train.

It was one of the deadliest train wrecks in the nation's history, killing 25 people -- including the engineer -- and injuring more than 130 others.

The use of hand-held cell phones for conversations or texting becomes a primary offense in Washington in two months.

In the Tri-Cities, we're getting used to the sight of vehicles changing lanes or turning without signaling because the drivers have only two hands and one is holding a cell phone.

Worse is the zig-zagging down the road as drivers weave like drunks.

And by and large, these aren't just teens. Adults of all ages seem either ignorant of the dangers or don't care about them.

Either way, imposition of heavy penalties and making texting and hand-held cell phoning a primary offense should soon alert all drivers to the perils of both.

June can't come fast enough for those of us seeking some relief the threats posed by distracted drivers, chatting or texting away, unaware of their surroundings and the threat they pose to others.